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Cognitive Function: How to Monitor and Protect Our Thinking Abilities

Learn about the six domains of cognitive function and discover practical tips for maintaining our ability to think and reason as we age.


Cognitive function plays a vital role in our lives, influencing how we learn, communicate, solve problems, and make decisions. Defined as the brain's capacity to process thoughts, cognitive function encompasses various mental abilities, each contributing to our overall cognitive health.

Understanding the intricacies of cognitive function involves getting to know its six primary domains. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, classifies these as Executive Function, Language, Learning and Memory, Perceptual Motor Planning, Attention, and Social Cognition. Each area serves a unique purpose in shaping our cognitive abilities.

Executive Function

This domain is like the mind's "task manager." It involves processes that allow an individual to sort through all types of information they are receiving and select what is currently relevant to something they want to accomplish. It includes working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control.


This domain focuses on the ability to process written and verbal language to understand the world around us. It involves object naming, word-finding, and fluency.

Learning and Memory

This domain is involved in how we take in and utilize pertinent information, internalizing knowledge and then altering behavior to adjust to what has been learned. It includes implicit learning and semantic memory.

Perceptual Motor Planning

This domain involves processing visual information, while simultaneously planning and executing complex physical tasks.


This domain encompasses the specific process of shifting focus from other cognitive processes to either split, optimize, or illustrate the processing of other novel information.

Social Cognition

This domain involves the capacity to comprehend and express emotions, as well as identify these feelings in other humans and animals.

How do doctors evaluate cognitive function? 

Routine cognitive screenings involve simple tests or assessments conducted by healthcare professionals to evaluate various aspects of cognitive function, such as memory, processing speed, and executive function. These screenings can provide valuable insights into cognitive health and help identify any changes or declines in cognitive function over time. Early detection of cognitive decline allows for timely intervention and management strategies to maintain cognitive abilities and quality of life.

How can I protect my cognitive function? 

Maintaining and improving cognitive function is essential for overall well-being, especially as we age. Improving cognitive function as you age can be achieved by adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical exercise, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and staying mentally active can all contribute to better cognitive health. Activities such as reading, puzzles, and games can help keep the mind sharp. Social interaction is also beneficial for cognitive health, as it can reduce feelings of loneliness and stress. Remember to ask your healthcare provider for cognitive screenings each year to help monitor cognitive function and detect any potential issues early on.